The WORD – 10/3/13.
“The world is coming to an end! Because of our lawlessness and godlessness, God is going to destroy us!”
Quick quiz: who said that? Was it (A) Noah – trying to warn other people about the flood in this week’s Torah portion; (B) every Jewish leader who read the results of the Pew Research Center’s “A Portrait of Jewish Americans”; (C) both; or (D) neither?
Now, I don’t mean to make light of the results of the Pew Center’s survey. The data indicate that we have some real reasons to be concerned about the future of Judaism – and particularly our Conservative Movement– in this country. But, there were also some encouraging pieces of information as well. For example, the study divided our community into two segments “Jews by Religion” and “Jews of No Religion.” The former category refers to those of us who consider Judaism a religion and we are somehow a part of that religious tradition. Of those “Jews by Religion,” 86% say that they are raising their children as Jews. In other words, the vast majority of us want Judaism to continue into the next generation. That gives us something we can work with.
To me, one of the most troubling statistics came when respondents were asked to list the essential parts of what being Jewish meant to them. The top answer – given by 73% – was remembering the Holocaust. Now, remembering the Holocaust – and other painful chapters from our history – is important. However, if 73% of our kids leave our religious schools thinking that remembering the Holocaust is the most essential part of being Jewish, then it is no wonder that they don’t want to come back. And it should be no surprise, therefore, that they would think twice before sending their own kids to religious school.
That statistic tells me that we have not done an effective job of conveying to our young people the joy and beauty of being Jewish.
Now, I happen to think that we do a pretty good job of that in our Nursery School and Religious School today, but that does help the thousands of people who were surveyed and the many more who agree with the respondents.
The organized Jewish community needs to think long and hard about how we can welcome in people who have not experienced the joy and beauty of Judaism as children so they can find them as adults. Whether it is the result of a negative religious school experience or growing up in another faith, we have many members of our community who fall into this category. There’s more to Judaism than remembering the Holocaust or sitting through a five hour service in Hebrew while fasting. But if that’s all that’s been offered, then I can understand why some people would be reluctant to be a part of our community.
When Noah was faced with the danger of the flood, he built an ark for protection, but he did two other things as well. First he invited in all sorts of creatures and then he added something called a “tzohar” to the ark as well. A “tzohar” was an opening or a window which allowed the light to come in.
This should be our approach as a community as well – we should invite as many people as possible into our “ark” and allow the beautiful light of our tradition – Shabbat, food, music, holidays, art, philosophy, ethics, community service and more – shine over those who come.
If you are already in our “ark,” invite your friends to join us. If you are on the periphery looking in, come a little closer. But, everyone should take the opportunity to learn a little more about what makes Judaism unique and meaningful. We haven’t lasted all these years by accident and it will take more than one generation of American Jews to extinguish the light.